Social media personalities Dixie D’Amelio and Noah Beck at Disney California Adventure Park at Disneyland Resort on May 2, 2021 in Anaheim, California.
Handout | Getty Images Entertainment | Getty Images
The Covid pandemic turned the last 14 months into a literal roller coaster ride for theme parks and their fans.
The parks closed or didn’t open at all last spring, and although some reopened by the summer, it was tight capacity limits and strict health and safety measures that put some customers off and definitely cut the fun factor for others.
Here’s a look at how things develop for this part of the travel and tourism sector in 2021 and how potential visitors can get the most out of a theme park vacation as the pandemic progresses.
The sector was doing well before the pandemic. The top 20 North American theme parks drew 159,108,000 visitors in 2019, 1% more than in the previous year. This is evident from the TEA / AECOM topic index and the museum index 2019.
To attract even more visitors, the park operators have turned their profits back to much-touted new big-budget attractions like the Jurassic World Velocicoaster on the Adventure Islands at Universal Orlando Resort in Florida and the Marvel-themed Avengers Campus at Disney California Adventure Park in Anaheim.
People haven’t forgotten that these debuts were in preparation.
“A lot of families are choosing to visit theme parks this year,” said Trish Smith, a Kansas City, Missouri-based travel consultant who is on the InteleTravel network of home agents. “I actually had more bookings at this point this year than in 2019.
“So many new attractions are coming that a lot of people are saying, ‘Yeah, I don’t want to miss this and I want to be the first,'” she added.
Demand is particularly pent up in California, where the parks didn’t reopen until April.
In fact, Michael Erstad, senior consumer analyst at research firm M Science, said theme parks could return to previous visitor numbers as early as next year. “I definitely think it’s a possibility,” he said. “It will all depend on how things play out for the rest of the year with the virus.
“I wouldn’t count [a rebound] out.”
Cardify, a consumer intelligence company, found, unsurprisingly, that the theme parks saw a sharp drop in consumer spending over the past year, but “recovered a little” by reopening with capacity constraints last summer. Now that cities and states are easing pandemic restrictions, parks are seeing what Cardify calls a “silver lining” for park operators – a new “sharp spike” in spending.
Cardify also found in a survey of 1,044 consumers that 72% are excited to return to amusement parks after the pandemic, more than to movie theaters (68%) or bars and clubs (67%). Only personal concerts (79%) and sporting events (74%) are eagerly awaited.
Theme parks “are in a much better place” compared to movie theaters, cruises, air travel, hotels, and other entertainment options, said M Science’s Erstad.
As in ski resorts, in theme parks, “much of the experience is outdoors,” he said, and therefore less risky in terms of exposure. “You may be lining up for rides, but improvements have been made over the last year to improve food and beverage buying decisions so you can do a lot of things electronically.”
So where do thrill seekers go?
There are essentially two theme park markets in the United States, although there is some overlap between them. Large destination parks – like Walt Disney World, Universal Orlando Resort, and SeaWorld Orlando, which are grouped together in central Florida – attract both domestic and international visitors for longer vacations, while regional parks, which are sometimes smaller and less thematic, are more likely to attract a drive. in, day-trippers demographically from nearby areas.
Examples of the latter type of park would be the 27 theme and water park properties offered in North America by Six Flags Entertainment Corp., based in Grand Prairie, Texas. operate. Some smaller but highly themed parks like Dollywood in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee, span the line between the two categories.
(Interestingly, Disneyland has a global destination park profile, but it effectively acts as a regional park and draws most of the visitors to its local Southern California market. However, the park – currently restricted to Californians – reopens for everyone Visitors in full on June 15th.)
Consumer spending in Orlando parks has been recovering for months from last year’s crash. Visitors outside of the state open their wallets more than Florida residents, Erstad said.
“I think it’s a healthy sign for Disney and the destination-centric operators, as well as the general consumer appeal for theme parks in general this summer.” [and] a notice to consumers looking for this type of [mostly outdoor] Entertainment, “he said.
Florida is one of the least restrictive states when it comes to regulating pandemics, and the Disney, Universal, and SeaWorld parks in the Orlando area have been open since last July. Temporary interstate travel restrictions and quarantine requirements curbed remote demand for a few months, but were eventually eased towards the end of the year.
While interest in Disney’s Orlando parks is high, road trips near home will be hugely popular this summer for local theme parks such as [Cedar Fair’s] Kings Dominion [and] Cedar Point, Six Flags, Sesame Place, Busch Gardens and Dollywood, “said Carolyn Moody, InteleTravel consultant in Durham, North Carolina.
The judges are still unsure how the regional parks will fare as some venues lack real data for climate and business reasons, Erstad said.
Cedar Fair Entertainment Co., for example, has taken four of its eleven theme parks in the US and Canada completely offline for most of 2020, even in countries that have limited openings with limited capacity, and has also cut the operating season. In 2020 it was only 487 days of operation, compared to 2,224 in 2019.
“Cedar Fair took a more conservative approach. They were the first to announce that they would honor 2020 passport holders by 20201 and made a conscious choice to be more cautious,” said Erstad. “It’s a little early to check out some of your colder weather parks, although we’ve seen pretty good demand in the parks that are open.”
This year, Cedar Fair, based in Sandusky, Ohio, plans to open all U.S. parks – like Knotts Berry Farm in Buena Point, California, and Carowinds in Charlotte, North Carolina – by Memorial Day, despite Canada’s wonderland outside of Toronto , Ontario, will remain closed. The company plans to open the attractions originally planned for 2020 and spend an additional $ 100 million on new upgrades this year, President and CEO Richard A. Zimmerman said in a May 5 statement in anticipation of “strong pent-up consumer demand more closeness “outdoor entertainment at home, especially in the second half of the year. “
“We are happy with the leading indicators so far and our operational strategy for 2021 is focused on maximizing performance in our seasonally weighted second half of the year,” he added. “With our park openings just around the corner, we’re seeing an increase in season ticket sales again.”
Erstad, meanwhile, pointed to Six Flags Great Adventure & Safari in Jackson, New Jersey, as a regional park that opened at the start of the pandemic and did “very well” last summer.
“That was only due to the fact that they have the safari attraction where you can sit in your car with your family and be socially away from others,” he noted.
The park near New York City and Philadelphia reopened its safari for drivers with reservations on May 30th reopened its theme park section The good response indicates a large “pent-up demand”, said Erstad.
Parks like Cedar Fair’s, which weren’t open at all last year, may see their first visitor numbers, but “I don’t know the demand will grow as much as Disney and some other larger parks.” “said Summer Hull, travel content director for The Points Guy website.
“But I think that for some of the people who normally enjoy going to these places, this may be the summer that they come back to them,” she added.
What tips do travel agents have when you decide on a theme park?
Moody, a Disney specialist, said families considering theme parks this year should consult a travel advisor, “who’ll keep customers updated on the latest CDC regulations, answer questions, find the best deals, everything from.” Book start to finish and be a single contact person during your trip. “
She also recommends booking trips as early as possible, visiting parks early or late in the day to avoid the crowds, buying tickets and also making the necessary entrance reservations.
Smith also emphasized this last point. While Universal Orlando never needed reservations, and Six Flags scrapped them at its parks nationwide this month, visitors to Walt Disney World parks still need them – just like anyone who visits any of the parks newly opened theme parks in California.
“Even if you buy the ticket, there is no guarantee that you will get to the park you want to go to as that park may be fully booked with reservations,” she said.
In the park, follow the rules of masking and social distancing that still apply – the situation is fluid and can change quickly – but don’t worry. Since reopening, there have been no reports of parks in the Orlando area becoming Covid hotspots.
“The theme parks did a great job keeping people safe,” said Smith. “Even if more people get vaccinated, they still consider safety. So I don’t think there will be any big increases in cases or anything like that.”
The Points Guy’s Hull has been to Walt Disney World three times since it reopened and said, “It’s been a great time.”
“It’s mostly outdoors and they do a great job of making it feel fun and safe in your own little ‘Disney bubble’ at the same time,” she said.
Also, be open to change. “That’s the greatest,” said Smith. “You don’t have any specific plans. You have to be a little flexible now.”
Hull agreed, saying that theme park guests who do their homework will have a great time this summer. “But those who assume it’s just a normal business will expect some surprises,” she said, noting that many parts of larger destination parks – from hotels to restaurants to amusement rides – are still not online or do not have normal capacities.
“You have to arrange some things in a way that you may not have had before, and still with moderate expectations for things to do with food, housekeeping and other items that are still sort of pandemic-era and not back to normal have become. “
((Disclosure: CNBC and Universal Parks & Resorts are both subsidiaries of NBCUniversal, owned by parent company Comcast.)